The astringent, good-for-you leaf tips of the bitter melon, called ampalaya in the Philippines, kerala in India and balsam pear in China, provide calcium, potassium, vitamin C, folate and vitamins A and K, while the warty-looking pods also provide choline and lutein+zaxanthan. People either love or hate bitter melon, with children more likely to dislike the strong, astringent flavor, while adults, with more mature palates and a better understanding of its healthy properties, relish its appearance on their plates.
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Both raw and boiled bitter melon gourd leaf tips and their raw pods have no choline at all. Boiled bitter melon pods contain 13.4 mg of this essential nutrient per 1-cup serving, however. The body uses choline to maintain cell membranes and make betaine, acetylcholine and low-density lipoproteins. Betaine reduces homocysteine levels, which are a risk factor for heart disease, and keeps the liver from developing fat deposits.
Lutein Plus Zeaxanthan
Cooked bitter melon pods provide 1,641 mcg of lutein plus zeaxanthan. The raw pods provide only 158 mcg of lutein plus zeaxanthan, while the leaf tips provide none at all, raw or boiled. Lutein and zeaxanthan act in tandem to protect the eyes against macular degeneration due to retinal damage and protect the skin against sun damage from ultraviolet rays.
Boiled bitter melon gourd leaf tips provide almost 95 mcg of vitamin K, while boiled pods have just 6 mcg. Vitamin K causes blood to clot and speeds wound healing. People taking warfarin -- an anticoagulant -- should avoid eating boiled bitter melon leaf tips, but can safely eat raw bitter melon leaf tips and raw or boiled pods.
Calcium and Vitamin A
Both raw and boiled bitter melon leaf tips provide significant amounts of calcium and vitamin A. Boiled tips provide more vitamin A, needed for eye health, while raw tips provide more calcium. Boiled bitter melon gourd pods provide less than 1/3 the calcium of raw leaf tips. Raw bitter melon gourd pods provide less than half the calcium of raw leaf tips.
Boiled bitter melon gourd pods contain 396 mg of potassium, while raw pods have just 275 mg of the mineral. Potassium works with sodium, chloride and magnesium to maintain the body's electrolyte balance. Too little potassium -- called hypokalemia -- causes weakness, lack of energy, muscle cramps, stomach disturbances and irregular heartbeat.
Vitamin C and Folate
Raw bitter melon pods provide the most vitamin C, at 78 mg per 1-cup serving, as well as the most folate, 67 mcg per serving. Folate protects against fetal neural-tube defects such as spina bifida. Despite its high folate content, pregnant women should not eat bitter melon gourd due to the risk of miscarriage.
Bitter foods do not appeal to many people, but the bitter gourd is a common food in Indian cuisine. This vegetable, also known as bitter melon or balsam pear, offers a variety of benefits, both nutritional and medicinal. Bitter gourd is a good source of several vitamins and good for a low calorie diet. However, consult your physician before eating this vegetable as a treatment for any medical condition.
Bitter gourd is a good choice for restricted calorie diets – a 1-cup serving of this vegetable adds only 24 calories to your meal plan. As this type of gourd is an acquired taste, you may not enjoy it just by itself. You can add it to soups and casseroles, but your total caloric intake would be greater. Bitter gourd is quite low in fat as well, containing 0.2 g per serving.
Excellent Source of Vitamin K
A serving of bitter gourd satisfies your entire daily need of vitamin K. The vitamin K available in this bitter vegetable decreases your risk of excessive bleeding and contributes to the integrity of your bones. Taking antibiotics may leach vitamin K from your body, so eating foods like bitter gourd is a good choice to boost your intake.
Provides Vitamin C
Incorporating a bitter gourd into your diet increases your intake of vitamin C. One serving of this bumpy-skinned vegetable contains 54 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C, which makes it a good option for blood vessel health due to its impact on collagen production. You need this vitamin to repair injuries, including bone breaks and skin lacerations. This antioxidant vitamin contributes to protection against free radical damage that may trigger some types of cancer and other conditions.
Contains Vitamin A
One serving of bitter gourd provides 28 percent of the vitamin A your body requires each day. You need the vitamin A in this vegetable to keep your mucus membranes and other soft tissues healthy, and it also has other benefits for your eyes. This vitamin helps prevent night blindness and cataracts. A study published in the April 2011 issue of the "Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews" correlates a vitamin A deficiency with blindness triggered by measles, so consider adding bitter gourd to your diet if you have this disease to avoid eye problems.
Benefits for Type-2 Diabetics
Evidence in the March 2008 edition of the journal "Chemistry & Biology" indicates that properties of the bitter gourd may offer a natural treatment option for people with type-2 diabetes. Certain compounds isolated in this vegetable activate an enzyme known as AMPK, which helps to regulate glucose metabolism. This action helps diabetics, who have trouble converting glucose to energy, use the insulin they produce more effectively.
- USDA Agricultural Research Service Nutrient Data Laboratory: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
- VeganHealth.org; Choline; Jack Norris, R. D.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Betaine
- "Clinic in Dermatology"; Lutein and Zeaxanthin in Eye and Skin Health; R. L. Roberts, et al.; March/April 2009
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Potassium
- Your Home and Garden Blog; Bitter Melon – A Wonderful Natural Remedy For Diabetes; Dr. John Anne; May 2009